What is Chain Migration?

January 24, 2018 3:55 pm
by David Jakeman

Chain migration is a term that’s getting thrown around quite a bit as Congress and the White House wrangle about DACA legislation. President Trump and immigration hard-liners have been calling for an end to the practice, making it sound as though there’s some sinister plot afoot to sneak more immigrants into the country. However, any immigration lawyer in Vancouver or anywhere else in the country can tell you that chain migration is just a colorful way of talking about the benefits of family-based immigration.

Chain Migration: The Family-Based Immigration System

So what is chain migration? It’s simply a pejorative term for how the family-based immigration system works. Once you receive legal permanent residency status or citizenship, you can petition for family members to come to the US. Your relatives can, in time, petition for their qualifying relatives. It’s been this way since 1965, when Congress enacted a major overhaul of the immigration system.

Family-based immigration is divided into a number of categories, called preferences. If you are a legal permanent resident or a US citizen, you can submit a petition on behalf of your relatives to get them green cards. Each category of qualifying relationship falls into its own category.

Relationships that Qualify

Confusingly, there is a group of relatives who don’t fall under the “preference immigrant” categories. These are immediate relatives: parents, spouses, and minor (under 21) children of US citizens. Unlike the preference categories, there are no yearly limits for immediate relatives, so there is no wait time for a visa to become available.

The preference categories include the following:

Preference 1

Unmarried, adult (age 21 and older) children of US citizens.

Preference 2

Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21) of legal permanent residents.
Unmarried children (unmarried and over 21) of legal permanent residents.

Preference 3

Married children of US citizens.

Preference 4

Brother and sisters of US citizens, but the US citizen must be age 21 or older.

So yes, these family links do form chains, which is how we got the term “chain migration.” It’s not some clever loophole that people are exploiting. It’s how the legislation was intended to work. There is a recognition in the law that families, whenever possible, prefer to live in close proximity. There is no dollar value you can put on having your family nearby. Technology might make long-distance communication easier, but FaceTime still doesn’t let your mother drop by with a bowl of warm soup when you’re sick. “Chain migration” does.

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